Commencement Focus: Graduating cyber security student never stopped believing

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Gilbert Lopez

Gilbert Lopez at the Rock Creek Campus.

Portland Community College’s class of 2024 is ready to celebrate a milestone in their education pathway this spring. PCC’s commencement ceremony takes place at 7 p.m., Friday, June 14 at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum where thousands of newly minted graduates will celebrate their degrees and certificates with family and friends.

For Computer Information Systems student Gilbert Lopez, who is walking the stage to receive his associate degree in Cybersecurity, the path has been long and winding, taking more than a decade to reach this moment. It is as if Confucius whispered his well-known quote in Lopez’s ear: “It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”

For many PCC students, hurdles in life make earning a college degree a challenge. Financial reasons were a significant factor in Lopez’s temporary departure from school, but he was fortunate enough to secure a job that eventually allowed him to return to his studies.

cyber defense logo.

Center for Cyber Defense Excellence

PCC is a Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense (CAE-CD) offering both a degree in Cybersecurity or certificate in Cybersecurity  The National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity is located within the National Security Agency (NSA). The National Cyber Strategy addresses the critical shortage of professionals with cybersecurity skills and highlights the importance of higher education as a solution to defending America’s cyberspace.

Learn more about cybersecurity

“I’ve always worked full-time, and as a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipient, I haven’t qualified for financial aid,” Lopez said. “Therefore, I’ve funded my education out of pocket. At times, I’ve even worked two jobs to support my studies.”

Consulting with his advisor, the Cornelius resident recently learned that he has also earned two certificates in Cybersecurity Fundamentals and Windows System Administration. With this skills-expanding training in sophisticated technical tools and information security from PCC’s CIS Program, Gilbert now has a competitive edge in this essential and dynamic field.

He began as a part-time student under a different electrical engineering transfer program. After a hiatus to work more in 2017, he resumed his studies two years ago.

“Cybersecurity has always piqued my interest since childhood, when I taught myself to code and set up my home network,” he said. “When I initially enrolled at PCC in 2013, I hoped for a program like this, so I settled for the next best thing (CIS). I was thrilled when I rejoined PCC in 2022 and discovered they had a whole Cybersecurity Program.”

The college’s Cybersecurity Program is recognized as a center of excellence by the National Security Agency, which excites Lopez.

“My ultimate goal is to work in an offensive role in cybersecurity, preferably on a red team,” Lopez said. “They focus on offensive security, where you’re tasked with attacking a target to uncover vulnerabilities and strengthen their security. However, I’m open to any opportunity within cybersecurity, as long as it allows me to contribute and grow in the field.”

While he is not currently employed within the cybersecurity field, Lopez is in the IT field, which is a step in the right direction.

“I work full-time in IT, and it’s a paid position with Pacific Office Automation,” he said. “One of the best aspects of my job is the opportunity to continue learning while getting paid for it. My company incentivizes learning by covering the costs of certifications, but only upon successful completion. Also, acquiring more certifications enhances our prospects for advancement within the organization.

“One thing I can say about the PCC Cybersecurity Program and the teachers is that they are always willing to accommodate whatever is going on in your life, as long as you make them aware of it. I’ve been really grateful for the instructors and their flexibility, ” continued Lopez.

Lopez also said that Cybersecurity is a great program that helped him land his current IT help desk job and that he believes having that experience on his resume, along with his degree and certificates, will open up plenty more doors in the future as he gains more experience.

“I feel like I’m already on the path to earning a good and livable wage, and I hope it only gets better from here,” said Lopez.

DACA Resources

PCC is committed to every member of the community, serving DACAmented students. DACA has been in effect since 2012 (but only renewals are currently being accepted). For more on DACA and TPS (Temporary Protected Status) information, visit the Oregon Student Aid website , or visit the PCC DREAMers Resource Center.

About Misty Bouse

A Portland Community College public relations program specialist, Misty Bouse has been working in college advancement for more than eight years. A graduate of University of Oregon, Misty has worked as a managing editor for BUILDERNews Magaz... more »